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Jul 28

July 28, 2020 TML Coronavirus Update #93

Posted on July 28, 2020 at 3:40 PM by TML Staff

Urgent Updates


Will you ever run out of information to put in these daily virus update emails?


It doesn’t seem like it, does it? The challenges (and sometimes the absurdity) just seem to keep on comin’. As city officials continue to deal with virus-related logistical issues, The Texas Tribune reported a sobering revelation yesterday (July 27). According to the Tribune, “After months of undercounting coronavirus deaths, Texas’ formal tally of COVID-19 fatalities grew by more than 600 on Monday after state health officials changed their method of reporting.”


According to the updated Department of State Health Services dashboard, the virus has taken the lives of almost 6,000 Texans thus far. That’s a staggering number by any measure. 


We at the League keep those who have been affected in our thoughts.


Has the U.S. Senate released its proposal for the next stimulus bill?


Yes. Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R – KY) released the proposal yesterday afternoon (July 27). The bill is called the HEALS (Health, Economic Assistance, Liability Protection and Schools) Act, and the Senate Finance Committee has prepared a 12-page summary of the bill’s provisions.


According to CNN, “the bill will include a variety of component parts, which GOP senators and committee chairmen rolled out in a series of floor speeches Monday evening, including liability protections, a second round of direct payments to Americans, and a second round of Paycheck Protection Program loans intended to help keep the hardest-hit small businesses afloat.


Perhaps the most immediately controversial aspect of the Senate Republican plan is that it includes a cut of $400 to the enhanced unemployment benefit for out of work Americans – the benefit expires at the end of this week.”


The National League of Cities reported that, “according to Senator Chuck Grassley (R – IA) the bill will provide greater flexibility in how states can use their monies from the Coronavirus Relief Fund (CRF), including backfilling lost revenue.” 


The bill allows CRF funds to cover a revenue shortfall if a state government has distributed 25 percent of the money “downstream” to local governments, says NLC. No governmental entity may use more than 25 percent of allocated money to backfill lost revenue. 


Last May, the House passed the HEROES Act – a $3.5 trillion stimulus bill. Reconciling that bill and the HEALS Act – once it passes the Senate – will likely take weeks. 


If your city is interested in flexibility for existing federal funds or in additional funding, you should contact Senators Cornyn and Cruz and your congressional delegation now. 


What’s the latest on school reopening this fall?


Oddly, the attorney general issued “legal guidance” on school reopening today (July 28), a field that is usually the purview of the Texas Education Agency. The legal reasoning in the guidance letter is likely not binding as it was issued outside of the formal attorney general opinion process, and therefore represents nothing more than one attorney’s opinion on the subject matter.  


As always, city officials (and county, health authority, and school officials for that matter) should rely on the advice of their attorney, who has a fiduciary and ethical responsibility to them. 


Nevertheless here’s the press release that accompanied the letter describing its intent:


“Attorney General Ken Paxton today issued guidance on the opening of local schools for the upcoming school year, during the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic, responding to a request from Stephenville Mayor Doug Svien. While playing an important role in protecting the health of school children and employees, local health authorities may not issue sweeping orders closing schools for the sole purpose of preventing future COVID-19 infections. Rather, their role is limited by statute to addressing specific, actual outbreaks of disease. School officials, both public and private, are the appropriate ones to decide whether, when, and how to open school.  


‘Education of our children is an essential Texas value and there is no current statewide order prohibiting any school from opening,’ said Attorney General Paxton. ‘While local health authorities may possess some authority to close schools in limited circumstances, they may not issue blanket orders closing all schools on a purely preventative basis. That decision rightfully remains with school system leaders.’”


Further Updates


Did the governor take additional action in relation to the November 2020 election?


Yes, the governor extended the early voting period. Yesterday (July 27), the governor issued the following press release to that effect:


“Governor Greg Abbott today issued a Proclamation extending the early voting period for the November 3rd Election by nearly a week. Under this proclamation, early voting by personal appearance will begin on Tuesday, October 13, 2020, and continue through Friday, October 30, 2020. The proclamation also expands the period in which marked mail-in ballots may be delivered in person to the early voting clerk’s office, allowing such delivery prior to as well as on Election Day.


‘As we respond to COVID-19, the State of Texas is focused on strategies that preserve Texans’ ability to vote in a way that also mitigates the spread of the virus,’ said Governor Abbott. ‘By extending the early voting period and expanding the period in which mail-in ballots can be hand-delivered, Texans will have greater flexibility to cast their ballots, while at the same time protecting themselves and others from COVID-19.’”


Did the Secretary of State’s Elections Division following up the governor’s proclamation extending the early voting period with further guidance?


Yes, the Elections Division issued “MASS EMAIL (CSO- 3332) - Proclamation regarding Early Voting for November 3, 2020 Election.” It provides as follows:


“Dear Election Officials:


Yesterday, Governor Greg Abbott issued a proclamation suspending Section 85.001(a) of the Texas Election Code to expand the early voting period for the November 3, 2020 elections. Pursuant to the Governor’s proclamation, the early voting period for any election authorized to occur on November 3, 2020 will begin on Tuesday, October 13, 2020 and last through Friday, October 30, 2020. As the proclamation recognizes, this expansion will allow for increased in-person voting opportunities for the November 3, 2020 elections while maintaining appropriate social distancing standards in response to the COVID-19 disaster.  Additionally, the proclamation suspends a portion of Section 86.006(a-1) to allow a voter to hand deliver their marked mail ballot to the early voting clerk’s office before election day.


In connection with the Governor’s proclamation, we would like to provide additional guidance on several items:


-Extended Early Voting Days and Hours: As a reminder, in addition to the increased number of early voting days pursuant to the Governor’s proclamation, the Texas Election Code allows you flexibility to offer voters extended early voting hours. Specifically, you can provide extended hours beyond the minimum number of hours required for weekdays during early voting, as set forth in Section 85.005, in order to allow persons more opportunities to vote after work.  You can also provide for more than the minimum of weekend hours, if petitioned for additional weekend voting, as detailed in Section 85.006.


-Expansion of In-Person Delivery for Mail Ballots: We will be providing more detailed guidance about procedures related to this part of the Governor’s proclamation as well as providing updated forms.


-Updated Resources: As a result of the Governor’s proclamation, there are a number of SOS resources that will be updated. Here is a list of resources that you can expect updates to this week: (1) November 3, 2020 Election Law Calendar; (2) Important Election Dates; (3) “Dear Voter” Letter; (4) Information about Returning Your Carrier Envelope (Carrier Insert) (Form 5-22a); (5) Information about Returning Your Carrier Envelope (FPCA Carrier Insert) (Form 5-35); (6) Roster for Voters Hand-Delivering Carrier Envelope (Form 5-11a); (7) Ballot Envelope (Form 5-21f) (will provide language for sticker if envelopes already printed); and (8) Selected pages.


As the updates become available, we will be notifying you via email and/or web updates.


Please let us know if you have any questions or concerns. 


Thank you,

Christina Worrell Adkins

Legal Director – Elections Division

Office of the Texas Secretary of State

1.800.252.VOTE (8683) |” 


Where can I find archived issues of the TML Coronavirus Updates?


TML Coronavirus Updates are archived by date here and by subject here.